Eijiro Tsukada tasted a cup of freshly brewed tea that changed his life forever.
The drinks maker employee was so impressed he quit his job at 43 to find a way for others to enjoy the same experience.
Tsukada has since researched how to replicate the quality taste that can never be replicated with products in plastic bottles for consumers.
He worked to develop and launch a matcha green tea machine, nicknamed Cuzen Matcha, in the Japanese and American markets.
The brainchild of Tsukada, 47, was hailed by Shaun White, a retired Olympic snowboarding gold medalist, attracting considerable attention.
In February this year, the popular White showed off a maker of Cuzen Matcha on social media, saying he made matcha with him “every day”.
DROP THE BOTTLE
Eijiro Tsukada, second from right, and his wife, Shino, third from right, display their matcha machine at a major home electronics show in January 2020 in Las Vegas. (Provided by World Matcha)
Tsukada was previously involved in the development of bottled green tea at Suntory Holdings Ltd.
When he asked a sommelier to sample offerings from different manufacturers for comparison, the conclusion was that they “all taste the same”.
The reasons for their uniform flavor and color stem from high temperature sterilization, an essential process for these products to be kept at room temperature on shelves.
This means that drinks made quickly with teapots from quality tea leaves cannot be compared to their counterparts served in plastic bottles.
“It felt like the natural course of things once I was made aware of it,” Tsukada said.
Tsukada attempted to market a product marked with a fragrant aroma resembling that of tea brewed in a teapot, but there were limits to what he could do within his company.
His passion for quality outweighed the benefits of continuing to work with his employer, so Tsukada decided to quit despite having already turned 40.
DEMAND FOR MATCHA IN THE USA
Recognizing the growing popularity of matcha among American consumers, Tsukada developed the Cuzen Matcha machine to serve freshly processed tea at home like coffee makers.
The Cuzen Matcha was exhibited at CES, the world’s largest consumer technology show, in Las Vegas in January 2020, winning the innovation award. After hitting the market in the United States in October of the same year, Cuzen Matcha was recognized by Time magazine as one of its best designated inventions.
A feature of the device is its simple design. After the matcha leaves are placed in a cylinder at the top of the machine, water is added. At the press of a button, the crushed leaves will fall to be mixed with water to finish the tea.
Although the finished drink can be enjoyed as is, matcha also goes well with milk or sparkling water.
No fewer than 4,000 units of Cuzen Matcha have been shipped worldwide, primarily to the United States, to date.
Matcha leaves are grown by an organic tea grower in Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan. The first and second picked tea leaves are used to reinforce the particularly high quality of the drink.
“The style allows users to enjoy the aroma of tea directly,” Tsukada said. “Increasing the consumption of high-quality leaves will help tea growers as their numbers are declining in Japan.”
When it comes to opening up the US market, Tsukada had bitter experiences twice during his days at Suntory.
Tsukada launched Japanese bottled tea in the country in 2008, but quickly pulled out in part due to the financial crisis that followed the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers.
Tsukada traveled to the United States again in 2018 to open a matcha cafe. Although the company was on the road to success, he was ordered back to Japan due to internal personnel changes in less than six months.
“With these developments, I have become convinced that there is a demand for matcha in the United States,” Tsukada said.
Cuzen Matcha has a price of 29,000 yen ($206) in Japan.